Congressman Darren Soto represents Florida’s 9th District covering Osceola and portions of Orange and Polk counties. Though not from the Corn Belt, the Congressman understands that biofuels have an important role in our clean energy future.
We recently sat down with Rep. Soto to discuss biofuels and the energy transition.
Can you tell our readers a bit about yourself?
I represent sunny central Florida which is a positive, fast-growing area of the nation. Great weather. I hope everybody reading this considers coming to Orlando on vacation. I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t pitch our region!
I’m someone who focuses a lot on my district and on these areas and wants to make sure we’re creating new jobs but also transitioning to a new energy mix. It’s important that we can both leave a better planet to our children and create technology that will keep business going strong as we sell these technologies throughout the world.
Primarily, I work on environment and technology policy. I use tech broadly, computers, health tech, aerospace, and energy, among other areas.
I’m a lawyer by trade. I started out practicing commercial law and had a small business where I had to make a payroll twice a month. I get that what government does can be helpful but can also be a hindrance.
I have a lovely bride, Amanda Soto; she’s an assistant principal at an elementary school in the district. My father was born in Puerto Rico and moved to New Jersey, where I’m originally from, in his childhood, and mom is of Italian descent.
POET is the largest producer of DDGS in the world, helping provide high-quality feed to many species of livestock. Can you tell us about the agriculture industry in your district?
Sure, people know about the citrus [in my district] already. We also have a huge amount of cattle, probably the biggest agricultural product in the district.
They’re predominately cow/calf operations. There are some unique relationships between the Midwest and our region. One of which is that we birth the cows, and at about 500 pounds, we ship them out west. So, with the feedstocks that you are making here, I’m sure central Florida cows are destined to start noshing on DDGS again as we get them to 2000+ lbs.
You’ve supported a strong Renewable Fuel Standard. As a member of the Energy and Commerce Committee, you’ve spoken to a mix of solutions to embrace a clean energy future. What role do you see biofuels playing in mitigating climate change, and why do you believe a broad array of solutions is needed to meet GHG reduction targets?
We passed the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which provides the greatest investment to fight climate change in the history of our nation: $369 billion. This is our nation’s investment. And we don’t take that lightly. We took an all of the above approach, providing tax incentives for a whole range of different types of energy. Our hopes are that what you’re doing here (at POET) is really answering the nation’s call.
One area of particular importance to central Florida that the biofuels industry is working on is Sustainable Aviation Fuel (SAF).
Forty percent of tourists coming to central Florida, which is our biggest industry, come in through our airport. Making biofuel more viable and cheaper, or reducing emissions that go into the air in central Florida, all of these things are really important for our region.
I was told SAF would take twenty years to become economically viable. Now we’re seeing SAF coming online within the next one to three years, and that’s exciting. And that’s some of the innovative work that you’re doing with biofuels.
President Biden visited us at our Menlo, Iowa, bioprocessing facility earlier this year. To paraphrase, he said, “You can’t get to a clean energy future without biofuels.” Do you agree with that? How do you continue to spread that message nationally and in Congress?
President Biden is right; biofuels are part of our clean energy future, which is why we included the incentives in the IRA. More than my opinion is action, and including it in this landmark bill shows that you are in the game and you need to be.
It’s key to talk about what you’re doing here. So, talk to your neighbors. And I’m not even talking politically; I mean to give the nation hope that we’re doing big things about the climate crisis and passing along a better world for our kids.
I don’t have to tell you that the Midwest is a key part of not only Congress but the Presidency. You’re in a very important area of the nation. Presidencies are won in the Midwest, particularly over the past 20-30 years. That is a great opportunity to influence future policy in addition to giving the nation the hope for hope’s sake that we are on a better path than we may read about every day.
If you could share one message with our readers who are invested in the future of agriculture and its role in decarbonization, what would that message be?
You all are part of the solution for innovation to address key energy solutions and combat climate change. What you’re doing here is really innovative, and you need to talk about it. Preach the gospel across the Midwest and the country that what you’re doing is special and you’re answering the call of the nation. Continue to innovate, don’t rest on your laurels. The things you’re doing now are already going to help the nation move forward, but continue to innovate.